Swedish art

Detail of the Ramsund Sigurd stone, c. 1030
Carl Larsson's Breakfast Under the Big Birch Tree, 1896

Swedish art refers to the visual arts produced in Sweden or by Swedish artists. Sweden has existed as country for over 1,000 years, and for times before this, as well as many subsequent periods, Swedish art is usually considered as part of the wider Nordic art of Scandinavia. It has, especially since about 1100, been strongly influenced by wider trends in European art. After World War II, the influence of the United States strengthened substantially. Due to generous art subsidies, contemporary Swedish art has a big production per capita.

Though usually not especially a major centre for art production or exporter of art, Sweden has been relatively successful in keeping its art; in particular, the relatively mild nature of the Swedish Reformation, and the lack of subsequent extensive rebuilding and redecoration of churches, has meant that with other Scandinavian countries, Sweden has unusually rich survivals of medieval church paintings and fittings. One period when Nordic art exerted a strong influence over the rest of northern Europe was in Viking art, and there are many survivals, both in stone monuments left untouched around the countryside, and objects excavated in modern times.

The Reformation greatly disrupted Swedish artistic traditions, and left the existing body of painters and sculptors without large markets. The requiremnents of the court and aristocracy were mainly for portraits, usually by imported artists, and it was not until the late 17th or 18th centuries that large numbers of Swedes were trained in contemporary styles. The political success of the Vasa dynasty led to a considerable revival, expressed in the "Gustavan style", which again had some influence over neighbouring countries.

Among famous Swedish artists are Johan Tobias Sergel, Carl Milles, Anders Zorn, Carl Larsson and Carl Eldh.


Prehistoric art

Pre-historic petroglyphs in Tanum

When the ice age ended, the Scandinavian peninsula was populated from the south by hunters and gatherers. Art surviving from that period are Stone Age expressions and is simple and reflects the available material. Only the truly persistent art forms have survived the ravages of time: petroglyphs, are such an expression. The earliest rock carvings in the form of symbols, characters and images are carved in rock outcrops and boulders. They began to be produced about 7000 BC. Sweden has one of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs with a local center in Tanum Municipality in Bohuslän province.

During the Bronze Age, a spiral ornamentation was produced in the style that existed in Denmark.[1] From about 400 AD, the development of the Nordic animal ornamentation, an unusually rich and imaginative style that reached its peak during the 7th century with the so-called Vendel style. Animal ornamentation experienced a renewed flourishing of the rune stones. Rune stones - some of which are quite illustrative and are therefore called “image blocks” - were added between about 200 AD and 1130 with a flourishing between the period 980-1100. As an art form, the rune stone is specific to the Nordic culture. Sweden leads the way with the highest amount of rune stones with a total of 2,800 inscriptions. Approximately 85% of all the identified blocks have been in Sweden.[2] The stones were originally painted and combined text with ornamentation and stylized characters. They can be divided into seven different styles.[3] Some of the first known image-makers in Sweden were, in fact, rune carvers.

Sweden, especially the south of the country, also participated in Viking Age art, along with the rest of Scandinavia.

Medieval and Gothic art

This painting by Albertus Pictor can be seen in Härkeberga Church (c. 1480).

With the advent of Christianity came a new iconography, originally established in the churches, particularly in the form of altar screens, crucifixes, and stones. According to the Swedish History Museum, no other country has such a rich and comprehensive collection of medieval liturgical art.[4] Creativity was shown in Romanesque art products fabrics and gold works. From the 13th century, Gotland was a center for sculptors, such as the anonymous Master Majestatis. The Gothic style came to Sweden during the second half of the 13th century. Linköping Cathedral is mostly conducted in English Gothic style and contains richly decorated sculptures. In several works from this period exhibit a French influence, for example the triumphal cross from Öja Church, Gotland and St. Erik's statue in Roslags-Bro Church in Uppland. There are also Gothic monumental paintings on wood in Sweden.[1]

Visual narratives gained momentum in the churches in central Sweden in the late 15th century by masters such as Nils Håkansson, Master Petrus. Håkansson's student, Albert the painter, however, was to become far more famous for his religious paintings in Uppland. Motives during this period were often religious or mythical. Albert the painter, motivated by a chess playing Grim Reaper in Täby Church, was the inspiration for Ingmar Bergman's film The Seventh Seal almost 600 years later.

Contemporary with Albertus the Painter is the famous sculpture of Saint George and the Dragon in the Great Church of Stockholm.[5] It was made by the German-born painter and sculptor Bernt Notke, one of the late Middle Ages the most important northern European artists.[6] Notke, who periodically lived in Sweden, was very productive and had great influence with an intense and expressionistic style.[7]

Renaissance and Baroque art

17th century copy of Urban Larsson's Vädersoltavlan, the oldest known image of Stockholm. The painting can be seen in Storkyrkan.

The Vasa period of art consisted largely of portraits of princes, which were painted by foreign artists who were active in Sweden. Urban Larsson with his Vädersoltavla from 1535, in the Great Church in Stockholm, was an exception. He is one of the few well-known Swedish artists during the Vasa period and the Renaissance era.[5]

David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl painted this portrait of Georg Stiernhielm (1663)
Alexander Roslin's magnificent portrait of Gustav III (1777)

The pompous, happy and decorative made its entrance in the 17th century Great Power - during the 17th and 18th centuries the first few decades - was a grand time for architecture. A number of castles, mansions and churches built, like the Royal Palace, meant that artists were called from abroad. These foreign artists trained new generations of Swedish artists. More significant art collections were acquired through spoils of war. One famous artist was the court painter David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl.[5] Ehrenstral was also a portraitist and animal painter, and worked with the Drottningholm Palace, together with Johan Sylvius. Erik Dahlbergh depicted the superpower era of Sweden in the great work Suecia Antiqua et Hodierna. Other painters were David von Krafft, Michael Dahl.[1]

Rococo and the Gustavian style

Liberty and the Gustavian period was a major cultural boom in Sweden. At this time, Rococo was the initial style. Future portrait paintings made it internationally known in Swedish painting.[1] During the period, many Swedish artists moved to continental Europe. A representative of the rococo was Gustaf Lundberg. His technique was long dominant in the Swedish portrait arts, and he is represented at the Louvre and the National Museum and Art Academy. The French painter Guillaume Taraval was called upon to decorate the Royal Palace. Together with Carl Hårleman he advocated the new relaxed style. A leading style artist was Jean Eric Rehn, a student of Hårleman, who worked as craftsmen, architect and artist.

Alexander Roslin took inspiration from France and conducted many highly sensitive portraits of the era's finest personalities. Some of Roslin's portraits are among the most reproduced from the period. Of major importance was also Carl Gustaf Pilo, who became a court painter in Denmark. Pilo was inspired both by Venetian artists and the Dutchman Rembrandt van Rijn. Pilo returned, however, to Sweden and then painted the great work Gustaf III's coronation in Stockholm Cathedral.[1]

Other prominent names were Johan Pasch, Per Krafft the Elder, Peter Adolf Hall and, perhaps most importantly, Johan Tobias Sergel. Over time, beginning around 1770, Rococo was succeeded in Sweden by the Gustavian period. Swedish neoclassicism is said to have begun around 1785. The Gustavian period was characterized by both French and English influence.

After Gustav III's death, there was a period of stagnation in Swedish art. On the other hand, peasant painting flourished in particular, Dalarna and Hälsingland with painting and Dala horses during this time. Peasantry painting became a major inspiration for the 18th century artist Carl Larsson. Gothicism and Neoclassicism were the styles of art for several decades, including artists like the sculptor Bengt Fogelberg.[5] Fogelberg, who was inspired by the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, created powerful statues of Nordic gudagestalter and historical figures.

Karl Johan style

From the mid-19th century and a few decades later, nature paintings dominated the scene, with Marcus Larsson in the lead. Artists that pointed to something new were Egron Lundgren and Carl Fredrik Hill. Hill became one of the foremost Swedish landscape-painters as he had views that reflected his personality and often express despair and darkness. Egron Lundberg developed watercolor art, as he traveled extensively in Europe and Asia, and painted his findings. Even history painting was done extensively during the period, including artists such as Carl Gustav Hellquist Gustaf and Cederstrom.[5] Another painter was August Malmström who created historic and romantic nature works and illustrated many fairytales.

Romanticism and naturalism

From an international perspective Swedish-produced art languished in obscurity until the late 19th century, when a number of Swedish artists gained attention outside of Sweden. Especially the 1880s and the following two decades were periods of greatness in the Swedish art. Perhaps the best artist of them is the painter, sculptor, and printmaker Anders Zorn. Zorn was an extremely talented oil painter with a very precise but free style.

Anders Zorn's Midsummer Dance, 1897

Anders Zorn painted landscapes and people and is known for his nude studies of the hillocks from Dalarna. Zorn was also concerned with depicting peasant life in his home province of Dalarna. Woman artist Amalia Lindegren also created glorified scenes of the Swedish peasant and folk. Zorn was counted as one of the foremost painters in Europe in the late 19th century and made many portraits of contemporary celebrities.[8] Some famous work is Love's Nymph (1883), A Prime (1888), Midsummer Dance (1897), President Grover Cleveland (1899) and Bathing hills (1906). Zorn's art is featured at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris and the White House, and his works are among the most valued of all Swedish artists.

Another big name from this generation is Carl Larsson. Larsson, like Zorn, appeared in Dalarna and is one of the most beloved Swedish artists. Larsson painted primarily in watercolor and his motives were found in daily life: he often portrayed his own family and their home in Sundborn. His style is airy, very light and is characterized by a skillful interplay of surfaces and lines. Larsson created frescoes and wall paintings, like Midvinterblot and several other frescoes in the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm. Larsson became very famous in Germany in connection with an art book, A Home, that was published there. Another painter who achieved great popular popularity was Bruno Liljefors with very precise paintings of nature and animals in motion.

Richard Bergh's Nordic Summer Evening, 1899-1900

Two painters with great stylistic ability were Eugène Jansson and Ernst Josephson. Jansson's paintings, which took stylistic inspiration from van Gogh, are often simple geometric forms a large, quiet Stockholm Ground and powerful male figures. Josephsson is more varied and known for masterful oil portraits. He became an inspiration for the later modernism. Portrait painting was also developed by Richard Bergh as well as by Nils Kreuger. A significant development came in 1885 with the artist's group The Opponents, who wanted to renew the Swedish painting and collected many of those names. A few years later, in the 1890s, Bergh and Kreuger founded the Dorset School together with Karl Nordström. They reacted against the realistic landscape style and were inspired by Paul Gauguin. Especially Nordström was inspired by the French impressionists. A close friend of Nordström was the author and the universal genius of August Strindberg. Even Strindberg was an important Swedish painter from the period. The rise of women artists, such as Eva Bonnier, and Hanna Pauli, who, among other things, took inspiration from Rembrandt, also becomes prominent in this period.[5]

Modernism and expressionism

Modernism began to enter Swedish art with Axel Törneman and then the Men of 1909, which was a group of young male artists, mainly from the Artist League school. More abstract forms were represented by Hilma af Klint, Nils von Dardel and Gösta Adrian Nilsson.[5]

The mid-1920s and a couple of decades following were both characterized by surrealism, the Halmstad Group, and of expressionism, which includes Gothenburg Schools realists, Sven Erixson and Bror Hjorth and a rigorous formalist, abstract minimalism of artists such as Olle Bærtling.[5] Among the sculptors of the period are Carl Eldh and Carl Milles. Both have had great influence and the latter is perhaps the most famous Swedish sculptor of all time. From the same generation of sculptors came the self-taught wood sculptor and realist people portrayer Axel Petersson Döderhultarn.

After World War II, Swedish art was something of a boom and a host of artists established themselves. With a new democratic idea that art was founded for everyone in 1947, popular movements promoting art and in the same period also launched a variety of arts organizations across the country. Among the 1930s radicals as painter Albin Amelin and graphic artist and monumental painter Torsten Billman the work continued to bring images to the working people. Torsten Billman could also through his literary illustrations reach new groups. In the 1950s expressionists emerged like Torsten Renqvist and more informal painter Rune Jansson and Eddie Figge.[5]

In the early 1960s, was revitalized by the Swedish graphic artists as Philip von Schantz and Nils G. Stenqvist.[5]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Östby, Leif & Frode Ernst Haverkamp (2009). "Sverige - kunst". Store norske leksikon.
  2. nordiska.uu.se
  3. Gräslund, Anne-Sofie (2006). Dating the Swedish Viking-Age rune stones on stylistic grounds, Runes and their secrets: studies in runology. ISBN 978-87-635-0627-4
  4. "Kyrkan - livets centrum - Historiska". www.historiska.se (in Swedish). Swedish History Museum. 31 January 2007. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Hillman, 1993
  6. Nationalencyklopedin: Bernt Notke
  7. Encyklopedia Britannica: Bernt Notke
  8. Safran-Arts.com:Anders Leonard Zorn

Further reading

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 5/13/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.